In this latest Behind the Shadows Lizzie Boyle talks about her work on the upcoming Unseen Shadows graphic novel ‘The Heart Which Makes Us’ and its heroine Kathryn Monroe.
You know that moment when you open a box of chocolates and you don’t know which one to have first? That’s how it felt when Barry asked if I would write for Unseen Shadows.
“Choose a character,” he said, “and write the story you want.”
There are so many great characters in the Unseen Shadows universe, but – as if instinctively reaching for the orange cream among the chocolates – I knew which one was for me.
In case you don’t know Kathryn, she’s a criminal psychologist and crime scene investigator who used to work for Luther Washington at TORCH. Her ability to read evidence and get into the minds of criminals is so powerful that she sometimes seems psychic.
She appears in the novel Fallen Heroes in a few important scenes, but she isn’t a central character in the main story. In fact, for all her talents, by the time Fallen Heroes takes place, she has already quit working for TORCH.
What intrigued me about Kathryn was not her presence in Fallen Heroes, but her absence. Who was she? Why had she quit? How had she and Luther developed such a powerful relationship – not so much boss and junior as a meeting of equal but different intellects? What had happened to place her in this situation, at this time, a former agent, divorced with a daughter, equal parts resentment of Luther and barely hidden joy to be back working with him?
How can you resist a set-up like that?
Having figured out where she was in her life at the time of Fallen Heroes, I wanted to go back and find out where she came from. Everyone loves an origin story, after all. Technically, though, this isn’t an origin story – it’s a middle-gin story (if I can make up a clumsy word).
The Heart Which Makes Us starts at the point when Kathryn joins TORCH, a rookie at the age of 27, so with some life experience and her own share of heartache behind her (no spoilers: Barry knows what happened before this point and is writing it as part of Forgotten Warriors, the sequel to Fallen Heroes). The idea of a grown-up rookie was great – you get to learn the job and the organisation, but with a character who is opinionated and experienced enough to stand up to authority and to bend the rules to get the job done.
A confession at this point: I’m a sucker for CSI. And Thomas Harris novels. And Sherlock Holmes (any rendering). If there’s a problem that can be solved by science, deduction and reasoning, then bring it on. Kathryn Monroe is the queen of that stuff. Another reason to write her!
Kathryn is quite peripheral in the original Fallen Heroes novel. The Heart Which Makes Us puts her at the centre and, when you do that, you get to have a lot of fun writing the people around her. Luther was a joy to write (even though I was writing Idris Elba half of the time, not Barry’s much longer standing Luther Washington). I took advantage of my position to add to Luther’s backstory too – an interesting challenge when you know what happens to someone before and after an event. Barry let me get away with a lot!
Finding my own place in the timeline gave me the freedom to give some shape to Kathryn’s family life, create some colleagues at TORCH and invent my own cadre of bad guys for them to pursue.
When I started writing Kathryn, I had an idea of who she was. By the time I was switching off the laptop at the end of The Heart Which Makes Us, I realised that I hadn’t written her at all. I had set her off on a journey, and she had found her way to the end. That probably sounds all arty and pretentious; it’s not meant to. Sometimes, when you’re writing, you just find that the characters know what to do. It’s not your conscious process making things happen, it’s just a silent understanding between you and the character about what’s going to happen and how they are going to react. It helps – of course – to be working with such great raw material. Kathryn was a gem waiting to be discovered in Fallen Heroes; I’m just glad I bagged her first for a graphic novel.
Lizzie Boyle writer of ‘The Heart Which Makes Us’